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The Walking Dead: World Beyond

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Recently, it was announced that the next season of The Walking Dead (season 11) would be its last. This was bittersweet news for fans, who adored the show back in its heyday (arguably seasons 3-6) but have grown tired of watching it flounder. The thing is, while the original series probably should conclude, the spin-offs continue. There’s the fitfully engaging Fear the Walking Dead, the just announced Carol (Melissa McBride) and Darryl (Norman Reedus) spin-off and now, The Walking Dead: World Beyond, perhaps the strangest side project of all.

The Walking Dead: World Beyond takes place ten years after the zombie apocalypse. Enough time for an entirely new generation to have been raised with only vague memories of the world before. In the first two episodes, our plucky young protagonists, Hope Bennett (Alexa Mansour), Iris Bennett (Aliyah Royale), Elton Ortiz (Nicolas Cantu) and Silas Plaskett (Hal Cumpston) leave their safe, but dull, community in Nebraska and go on a mission into the wider world. Humanity has bounced back after a decade and these kids have lived most of their lives never having to fight the shambling deceased. They want adventure, they want experience and in the case of sisters Hope and Iris? They want to find their dad.

World Beyond’s premise is actually pretty neat, but the execution is a little less inspiring. The main problem is the kids; they’re borderline intolerable. With the possible exception of Hope, you may find yourself passionately yearning for a shambling horde to gobble them up. But more than subjective dislike, the idea of people unfamiliar with zombies facing them for the first time is… well, it’s the premise for the original Walking Dead, isn’t it? There was an opportunity here for some George Romero-esque evolution of philosophy regarding the ambulatory cadavers, more practical responses to living with strolling corpses and the like, but the show seems content taking the least interesting approach, and it’s kind of a pity.

That’s not to say it’s a disaster. Two episodes in and there’s plenty of potential in this Young Adult adventure. The main mission feels a bit Stand By Me (which isn’t a bad thing) and the zombies look fantastic, as always. Some striking imagery helps also, with an enormous perpetual tyre fire chockers with walkers being a highlight. Plus, there’s a subplot with Julia Ormond that seems interesting and will likely divulge some secrets about the whereabouts of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who fans are eagerly awaiting the return of (in whatever form it ends up taking).

The Walking Dead: World Beyond is… not amazing, but it has loads of potential. The slightly annoying cast may evolve (or die!) and the world is intriguing enough to keep you entertained. Plus, the fact that it’s a finite yarn with only two ten episode seasons suggests it almost certainly won’t outstay its welcome, which is appreciated.

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The Fight

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The Fight is a powerful and gripping documentary about the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Using a handful of case studies, the filmmakers expertly illustrate the range of the ACLU’s work and the tireless dedication of its staff and attorneys in the New York office.

The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organisation that was founded in 1920 “to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Over the opening credits, we hear US President Trump reciting the oath of office at his inauguration, promising – amongst other things – “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

We then jump to January 27, 2017 – one week after the country’s 58th presidential inauguration. All over the country, thousands of people are demonstrating, protesting the new administrations’ sudden and draconian actions against travelers from “Muslim countries” and immigrants seeking asylum. We see ACLU lawyers, as well as sympathetic activists, mobilising in response, and within the first four minutes of this compelling documentary, we see their first victory.

This is a dynamic and engaging doco that hits the ground running, immediately plunging us into high-stakes dramas of various individuals facing immediate deportation. The Fight goes on to clearly chart, in painstaking detail, the efforts of these activists in defense of abusive actions ordered by the new administration.

Directors Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres capture the thrills of victory and the devastation of defeat in these deeply personal battles. The storytellers put a human face on every story told, delivering harrowing true stories with the right amount of necessary detail, as well as infusing these real-life dramas with moments of humour and poignant emotion.

When a mother is separated from her child, a soldier is threatened with losing his career, a young woman’s right to choose is imperiled at the pleasure of a government official, and the ability of citizens to exercise their basic right to vote is threatened, the consequences are both individual and far-reaching, with the potential to have a devastating impact on future generations.

Combining all kinds of sourced footage, the filmmakers use split screen to excellent effect to demonstrate parallel narratives and to build tension. Another excellent filming technique is the use of illustrations of scenes inside the courtrooms where cameras are not permitted.

The film masterfully tracks these four recent ACLU cases, never losing the narrative thread of any of them, giving us a fascinating deep dive into winning strategies and highlighting the lawyers’ shrewd and dogged investigation.

Winner of the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award at Sundance earlier this year, The Fight is a superb documentary that gives us an inside look at the legal battles that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union have been facing during the Trump administration. This is an important documentary that does the work of exploring serious issues of great significance to all American citizens.

Although they have been fighting for civil rights for 100 years, the resources, energies and commitment of the ACLU has never been tested quite so hard as in the past four years; to date they have issued close to 150 Lawsuits against the Trump Administration for violations of the US Constitution.

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The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gordon

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The Outer Worlds was released just under a year ago, in that ancient halcyon age of 2019. Critical consensus (including our own) was that while the game was imperfect, it captured much of the black humour, RPG mechanics and interesting, nuanced story that wasn’t on display in the latest iterations of Fallout or Mass Effect. Yes, some of the action was a bit repetitive, and the enemy variety a tad lacking, but there was a lot to like about the title. Peril on Gorgon represents the first major DLC drop for the game and the result, honestly, is a bit of a disappointment.

Peril on Gorgon tells a mostly self-contained story that predominantly takes place on the Gorgon asteroid, and it involves (yet again) a science experiment gone terribly wrong. You’ll need to explore the rather drab asteroid as you piece together what happened and choose what to do with that information, which is fine, in theory, but the final revelation is profoundly underwhelming. In fact, the whole DLC feels like a retelling of the plot of Joss Whedon’s Firefly movie, Serenity. That flick’s a lot of fun, don’t get us wrong, but it does make the narrative lose its mystique once you’ve worked out what’s happening.

Peril on Gorgon makes its first mistake right out of the gate. It’s DLC that exists after the beginning of the game but before the ending, so if you don’t have a save file in that area, it’s tough titty, my friend, you’ll have to start a whole new game. Happily, your humble reviewer had a save in the sweet spot, but it couldn’t help but make the entire DLC feel like cut content from the main game. Perhaps, if this 4-6 hour digression had appeared in the vanilla campaign, it would have felt more at home, however as a DLC it seems slight and half baked. The player level cap is raised to 33, there are a handful of new weapons and armour, but a total lack of new abilities or companions can’t help but hammer home the feeling of half arsedness. And the fact that you’re fighting predominantly the same old enemies, that you got bored of in the main game, is just a bummer.

The Outer Worlds: Peril on Gorgon, fundamentally, is just a very average experience. While it does offer more Outer Worlds, which is welcome in theory, it also provides poor level design, samey encounters and an overall sense of been there, done that. If you haven’t played The Outer Worlds yet (and you absolutely should) it might fatten out the campaign, but otherwise you’d have to be pretty hard-up to peer into the eyes of this gorgon.

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Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning

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In 2012, approximately 745 years ago in video game terms, an action RPG called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released on PC, PS3 and XBOX360. Developed by Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, the game was a massive, sprawling, ambitious combination of rich storytelling (by acclaimed fantasy scribe R.A. Salvatore), strong imagery (by Spawn creator Todd McFarlane) and fast-paced, intuitive combat rarely seen in RPGs at the time. It launched to mostly positive reviews and sold in decent numbers. The assumption was, this would be the first chapter in an increasingly epic series, a fresh face on the RPG landscape. Fate, however, weaves a twisted tapestry and not long afterwards, 38 Studios filed for bankruptcy (due to staggering fiscal mismanagement) and Kingdoms of Amalur was destined to forever be known as that endearing one hit wonder. Cut to: 2020, unofficial year of the remaster, and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is back as… Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning. Oof. And to be honest, the title isn’t the only misstep here.

Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning has one of the strongest openings in RPG history. You’re a corpse, manhandled by dwarves onto a groaning pile of your fellow deceased, when suddenly you shuffle the mortal coil back on and begin your adventure. Why and how you’re alive, what the deal is with the invading hordes and your connection to fate itself are all questions you’ll need to explore over the course of this extremely large (60-100 hour) adventure. So, that’s the story. What’s new in this 2020 remaster? Erm, not a great deal, just quietly. The graphics have been given a minor polish, and the animation runs at a mostly solid 60 frames per second, but in terms of meaningful additions or even quality of life changes (like the ability to loot multiple corpses at once), there’s sweet Fanny Adams on offer.

So, while the combat is still fast-paced and flowing, and the story remains intriguing particularly in the main quests, Kingdoms can’t help but feel very dated indeed. Multiple fetch quests, large empty-feeling environments and exposition delivered via text dumps all chip away at your enjoyment. At nearly a decade old, Kingdoms feels particularly molested by the passage of time. On the plus side, for console owners this represents the only way to get the game and it looks as good as it has ever been. For hardcore fans of the original this may well be enough, and don’t get us wrong – there’s a lot of game here and if you’re able to overlook its shortcomings, much adventure awaits. For those of us hoping the game might get a remaster experience comparable to the likes of BioShock: The Collection or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, sadly this has proven to be an epic fantasy.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2

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It’s hard to explain to the younger generations just how much the Tony Hawk games dominated loungerooms in the late ’90s/early 2000s. Afternoons, evenings, post-club kick ons and even cheeky sick days were spent mastering the bird man’s trickier moves, usually shrouded in a haze of bong smoke and concentration sweat. That sense of baked camaraderie, combined with the “just one more go” addiction spiral, made these games indelible parts of the video game landscape. Of course, the party couldn’t go on forever, and while it’s debatable which Hawk game finally sunk the franchise, things had well and truly died in the arse by the time the execrable Pro Skater 5 plopped out in 2015. It seemed that those halcyon days were well and truly over and then Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 dropped in and it’s like the ’90s have returned, except this time we’re old.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is much more than your typical remaster. It is, in fact, a ground up remake of the first two Pro Skater titles with gorgeous graphics, slick animation, familiar but tweaked gameplay and the original game’s steep learning curve very much present. In fact, due to the animation being so slick, and the frame rate so high, the game’s actually significantly faster than you might remember, which may well give your entropy-dulled reflexes a work out. All the great locations from the first two games are present, with some reimagined and tweaked elements (The Mall now looks like a post apocalyptic, deserted hellscape) and the tricks from later games – manuals, reverts, wall plants etc. – have been added. There’s also a robust Create-A-Skater mode, the character then able to be used across both games and online, and the Create-A-Park mode, which is a hoot for the very patient.

About the only misstep in this entire game involves its multiplayer modes. See, while you can link up with a mate and run through online challenges (like trick attack) with a bunch of randoms, you can’t just bum around a location that’s exclusive to the pair of you. No private matches, no co-op play through freshly unlocked levels and not even any bloody HORSE! It’s probably a tad churlish to complain about a feature missing that sure as hell wasn’t in the original, but in 2020 to not have that level of online interactivity seems a disappointing omission and something that would be wise to correct in this or future entries.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 probably won’t blow away newbies, and honestly, Skate was a better pure skating game (remaster or sequel, please, EA) but if you loved these games back in the day there’s a better-than-average chance you’ll love them anew here. Disappointing online selection aside, this is a near-perfect remaster and a delicious slice of rose-tinted nostalgia done right.

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Asian Cinema, Home, Review, sci-fi, Streaming, This Week Leave a Comment

Exploring with deft-handed candour themes of existentialism and spirituality, writer-director Aratia Kadav elevates sci-fi storytelling convention with incisive grace in the Hindi language space-drama Cargo.

Gliding through space with the same gentle motion as a jellyfish moving through water, the crew of Demons (yes, you read correctly) on-board the Pushpak 634A are given the dubious honour of ushering the souls of the deceased, affectionately called ‘Cargo’, into their reincarnated afterlives.

Greeted by the deceased with a sense of bewilderment and desire for closure denied by the Pushpak 634A’s no phone policy, the lone duo helming the ship – telepath Prahastha (Vikrant Massey) and newly recruited healer Yuvishka (Shweta Tripathi) – navigate the complexities of their nine-to-five slog with a keen sense of duty.

Buckling under the weight of this shared sense of purpose is Prahastha and Yuvishka’s initial reservedness, with the zealous demons’ relationship developing far beyond a point of head-butting upon their continued self-reflection. The film flourishes as a result of impeccable performances from Massey and Tripathi, with their characters’ sentience and passing banter revealing the gamut of hardships faced by their Earthbound contemporaries.

These themes, particularly those relating to class and gender, are articulately executed with profound realism thanks to Kadav’s compassionately written, albeit slow-burning screenplay.

There is a retro quality to Cargo’s production design that is undeniably influenced by Kubrick and ‘60s Star Trek. It proves as stylish as it is an effective tool to express Prahastha’s exorbitant tenure in orbit. That said, Cargo’s modest budget becomes glaringly obvious when the film dabbles in visual effects, with examples of the ship passing through space – neither in sync with the retro aesthetic nor detailed enough to look realistic – detracting from otherwise attractive set-design.

Upping the thematic ante with a candid optimism for better, Cargo offers a stylish, thought-provoking and well-acted alternative to the influx of ‘straggler-in-space’ films dominant in Western filmmaking.

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Two Heads Creek

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The collective shadow of many essential-and-not-quite-so-essential Australian movies – Wake In Fright, Welcome To Woop Woop, Dimboola, 100 Bloody Acres, Dying Breed, The Cars That Ate Paris – loom large over Two Heads Creek, yet somehow this blood-and-gore laden slab of horror comedy still manages to feel fresh and original. Penned by and starring British actor Jordan Waller (who appeared in TV’s Victoria and the Gary Oldman-starring Darkest Hour, and makes his feature writing debut here) and directed by Jesse O’Brien (who debuted in 2016 with the impressive low budget Aussie sci-fi flick Arrowhead), Two Heads Creek garishly punctures the stereotype of the hard-drinking, meat-eating, xenophobic Aussie, and is far more interested in sly social commentary than it is in unforgettable kill scenes and creating effective tension.

When British butcher and mama’s boy Norman (Jordan Waller) discovers that his Polish mother wasn’t really his mother, he and his partially estranged sister Annabelle (Kathryn Wilder from TV’s Adulting and Frontier, and Kenneth Branagh’s All Is True) – a tough talking wannabe actress and current poster girl for a laxatives company – escape Brexit-bound England and head to far flung Australia in search of their real mother. Their destination is the remote Queensland town of Two Heads Creek, where the only thing on the menu are sausages and cans of Four X…needless to say, the foppish Norman and outspoken Annabelle have a little trouble fitting in. Pretty soon, however, they realise that assimilation is the least of their problems.

Boiling with broad humour, grotesque Aussie caricatures (the wonderfully over-the-top Helen Dallimore steals all of her scenes as a brassy tour guide with a few big secrets; Kevin Harrington skewers his nice guy Aussie image; and Gary Sweet and Kerry Armstrong go at it hammer-and-tongs in smaller but no less forceful roles), and kick-arse female characters (this is very much a post-“woke” affair), Two Heads Creek turns everything up to eleven (including its catchy clutch of vintage tunes by Skyhooks and the one and only Normie Rowe), and only occasionally wobbles under the weight of its own messy madness. It’s profoundly gross (at times maybe a little too gross) and while it moves at a cracking pace, some of its set pieces could have used a minor edit. The film’s energy, however – along with its genuine warmth for its eccentric characters and pointed commentary on our stop-the-boats mentality – more than paper over any minor cracks. Two Heads Creek is a splatter filled satire on Australia’s dark side with plenty of blood, guts and brains, of both the literal and figurative variety.

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In the world of professional boxing, Irish Olympic gold medallist and world titleholder Katie Taylor is as much of a champion outside the ring as she is inside it.

Training as doggedly as any other competitive boxer, Taylor, to the failure of society, is denied the equal treatment with her male contemporaries.

Exploring Taylor’s turbulent career and her fight for equality in a profession dominated by men, Ross Whitaker’s documentary Katie offers a spirited look at the strength of women.

Taylor’s rise from athletically gifted youth to world-class boxing sensation is told with loving candour. It is clear that there are no greater Katie Taylor supporters than her own family. Their deep admiration, seeping through every ounce of the film, is expressed through interviews and archival footage.

Whitaker positions boxing as a wider stand-in for gender inequity. He uses Taylor’s difficulties in accessing equal treatment through promotion and pay, to denote the systemic practices that disadvantage women. The contribution made by Taylor in campaigning for women to compete in boxing at the Olympics, an achievement not rectified until 2012, becomes a troubling example of the pace at which professional sports trails behind the times.

Katie Taylor does not need sympathy, nor does she need her struggle to be romanticised. What she demands is immediate action in the fight to have women be fairly represented in not only positions of power, but in all facets of society.

She will continue to push for this with a sheer determination in hand and an ego left at the door. Unfortunately, she just has to wait for the world to catch up with her.

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Australian, Australian New Wave Filmmakers, Home, Review, This Week Leave a Comment

Set in Blacktown, Western Sydney, Benefited follows disparate tales of desperate youths living in modern Australia. Binding the tales together is Dity, played by the film’s writer/director Clare McCann, a 20 something who has fallen pregnant to her abusive partner, Ray (Ryan Bown). McCann plays with time as she bounces her audience back and forth to different points in their lives from first kiss to first brutal assault. Elsewhere, 15-year-old thief Will (Cristian Borello) struggles to connect with his half sister and finds solace in drugs and burglary.

This a thoroughly bleak film which doesn’t pull its punches, and with good reason. As proven by the film’s closing text, Benefited wants to paint a picture of domestic violence without the Hollywood lacquer painted over it. Ray doesn’t come into Dity’s life twirling his moustache and looking menacingly at the camera. He woos her after a festival; he defends her against her drunken stepfather. It’s the little things he does after this that are troubling, so slight that you wouldn’t notice. Even being the first to say ‘I love you’ is merely a ploy to control Dity.  It’s the mundanity of the things he does, that McCann writes about, which underlines the domestic terror her protagonist is in.

Elsewhere, perhaps less successfully, McCann tackles the state of Australia’s social benefits system; painting a world of grey cubicles peopled by apathetic office workers. Having managed to give Ray several layers, it’s a shame to see people Dity encounters on the dole as nothing more than pantomime villains, something to push Dity on a downward spiral.

A sad and down spirited film, Benefited might not be Australia’s answer to I, Daniel Blake, but it is the kind of film that can burst a few misconceptions people have about domestic violence.

Available now on Google Play, Microsoft, Vimeo on Demand, Prime Video, Fetch TV

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Zoey Deutch maintained a prolific run in the 2010s, but between the cloying Before I Fall, the aggressively pointless Why Him?, or even her turn in Zombieland: Double Tap which dragged the rest of the production down with her, she’s been in need of room to stretch her legs. And in the most seemingly-unlikely of places, she seems to have found just that with Buffaloed.

The film literally starts with Deutch screaming “Fuck!”, an immediate set up for her underdog hustler Peg (nicknamed Pegger, a fitting moniker for a woman dominating men at their own game). While still showing a level of warmth and sweetness, she is also apt at straight-faced intimidation and street smarts that is quite phenomenal to watch unfold.

Deutch isn’t the only one here who has landed a saving throw, as Jai Courtney’s portrayal of the hilariously pretentious debt collector Wizz shows that he’s definitely balancing out his own collection of dud script picks over the last decade.

Speaking of scripts, the very Wolf Of Wall Street style of predatory finance in this story (with  Brian Sacca featuring in both films), is given a more sideways take on bloodthirsty commerce, embodied through its main character’s actions, with Pegger shown as the china doll in the debt collection bullpen.

With her motto of “Fine is like mediocrity’s dumb cousin”, following Pegger’s arc from childhood, to her stint in prison, to her hiring of fellow sideways hustlers (phone sex operators, spruikers, prosperity evangelists, etc.), is engrossing stuff.

It also carves out its own niche within the larger trend of female-led crime dramas, as it directly asks a question that most of the others seem to dance around: Is it really possible to succeed in this male-dominated business without having to resort to their methods? And as we see with Pegger’s conflicts with her mother Kathy (Judy Greer in prime maternal form), lawyer Graham (Jermaine Fowler), and even herself, the expected fall from success becomes a vivid depiction of just how vicious this industry is. This is aided by the inclusion of real-world numbers, a few fourth-wall breaks, and even Big Short-esque jargon skewering, to make the reality of it all that much more apparent.

While it doesn’t necessarily rise above its competition, Buffaloed shows more than enough of its own flavour, emotion and redemptive acting pedigree to stand alongside them. May this truly mean the start of better things for Deutch and Courtney, as they’ve been deserving of better for a long time now.